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How to Start Running Again After Significant Time Off

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Are you ready to return to running after taking time off? It’s possible you were injured, feeling burnt out, starting a family, or simply focusing on other things in life. Because a return to running does not look the same for everyone, it can be easy to do too much too soon. Here are nine guidelines to follow if you are wondering how to start running again after significant time off.

A woman is walking on a dirt path outside. She is wearing a black tank top and blue athletic shorts. Her hair is in a ponytail and she is carrying a waterbottle. She is looking back at the camera and smiling.

How to Start Running Again

1. Get cleared by your doctor if you were injured, ill, or gave birth.

First and foremost, if your hiatus from running was due to an injury, illness or having a child, make sure your doctor has given you permission to start running again.

Health is the most important thing and getting the green light from your doctor is the first step in how to start running again. What you do not want to have happen is begin running before your body is ready to, as this can easily lead to taking more time off.

2. Follow a plan that is customized for you.

You are unique and so is your return to running. It’s best to not follow a cookie-cutter plan, as the plan was not created with your specific situation in mind.

Ideally, follow a plan that an experienced runner or coach has written for you. As you successfully move through each week in your plan, you can communicate with your coach how you’re feeling and he or she can continue your build based off these efforts and what you have accomplished.

If you are looking for a training plan created just for you, please read about my run coaching services. I am more than happy to help you with your return to running!

3. Start slowly.

Unfortunately, it can be very easy to do too much too soon in terms of mileage, speed, and intensity. Oftentimes, runners will jump back in too quickly and wind up feeling burnt out or worse, injured.

To start, leave your ego and expectations at the door. If you were injured, it’s possible that you are now starting back with run/walk intervals. This could look like 30 seconds or 1 minute of easy effort running followed by a couple minutes of walking.

On the other hand, you may be fine to ease back into running without walking intervals. If this is the case, focus on duration and effort-based runs instead of distance and pace-based runs. This way, there is no pressure to run a particular pace or a certain number of miles in the same time you may have done prior to your time away from the sport.

A woman wearing a black t-shirt and blue shorts is standing on a sidewalk. She is bent over with her hands on her knees. She is taking a break during a run as she is returning to running after time off.

4. Build consistent habits.

Of course, with a return to running comes a whole new set of routines. This includes:

  • Eating a snack before you run
  • Making time in your day to run
  • Planning your route
  • Bringing running clothes and shoes to work so you can run afterwards
  • Eating a post-run snack

Surely, the list goes on! At first, allow yourself at least a few weeks to really get back into the habit of running. Know that as you build back your running routine, these habits will become more intuitive and part of your daily schedule. Most importantly, remember that success is built upon consistency!

5. Set goals.

In addition, create small, incremental goals for yourself. Having milestones to work towards will make your return to running exciting because you will be actively working towards something that’s meaningful to you. For example, possible goals may include:

  • Building towards a certain number of weekly miles
  • Running 3-5 days a week
  • Running for a certain amount of time without walking
  • Building strength to run up a hill in your neighborhood

Keep in mind, your goals will be specific to you. As you start to check off these goals and see your efforts adding up, your confidence will increase. Continue to set goals that build off each other. If you need guidance on how to set appropriate goals, read 3 Guidelines for Setting Running Goals.

A woman is wearing blue sunglasses, a black tshirt, and blue floral shorts. She has just finished a run and is flexing one of her arms. She is looking at her arm and smiling.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and mentality.

After significant time off, running may not feel as easy as it once did and you may not be running the paces you have in the past – that’s normal! It takes time to slowly build back endurance, mileage, and speed so be patient with yourself and the process.

Do not compare your current running self to your past running self. And more importantly, do not compare yourself to someone else! One exercise I have done in the past is write down three positive things about every run in a Believe Training Journal. This helps me focus on the positives and my own journey.

7. Incorporate cutback weeks.

Just like you would do if you were training for a goal race, build cutback weeks into your schedule. Typically, cutbacks are incorporated after a few weeks of building and greatly reduce the risk of injury, fatigue, and burnout.

During a cutback week, decrease the number of miles you’re running and scale back the intensity. For instance, if you have built back to running 10 miles a week, you may want to only run 5-7 miles during your cutback week. Use the extra time to get as much sleep as possible and focus on recovery.

8. Cross train and strength train.

Undoubtedly, cross training can be very beneficial for runners who have taken time off, especially if you were injured. With cross training, you’re able to continue building your endurance and gaining aerobic capacity while decreasing the risk of injury. Consider cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, the elliptical, and walking.

For strength training, focus on building a strong core, hips, back, legs, and glutes. If you’re new to strength training, start with bodyweight exercises before adding in weights.

A woman is kneeling inside a fitness room and holding a waterbottle of gatorade. She is wearing a black tank top and navy blue leggings. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

9. Prioritize recovery.

Recovery is always important no matter what stage of your running journey you’re in. In particular, sleep is the most effective way to recover. Make sure you are prioritizing your sleep and heading to bed at a reasonable hour.

Secondly, as you being running again, do not run two or more days in a row. Take at least one day to either cross train or rest completely before running again. For example, your first week back may look like: Run / Rest or XT / Run / Rest / Rest or XT / Run / Rest or XT.

Remember, stress + rest = growth.

A woman is standing outside with one foot up on a step. She is massaging her right leg with a roll recovery device. She is wearing a black headband and a navy blue long sleeve shirt. Her hair is down and she is looking at the camera and smiling. She is focusing on recovery as recovery is one guideline in how to return to running after time off.

How to Start Running Again Recap:

After significant time off running, many people can return to the sport not knowing where or how to start. Follow these nine guidelines so your return to running can be fun, successful, and injury-free.

  • Get cleared by your doctor if you were injured, ill, or gave birth.
  • Follow a plan that is customized for you.
  • Start slowly.
  • Build consistent habits.
  • Set goals.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and mentality.
  • Incorporate cutback weeks.
  • Cross train and strength train.
  • Prioritize recovery.

I would love to help you reach your running goals. Click here to learn more about my run coaching services and please ask any questions using the form on my contact page.

Comment below:

Have you taken significant time away from running? If so, how was your return to running after time off?

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